Scientists discover new possibly habitable super-Earth

An international team of scientists has discovered two super-Earths, one of which might be habitable, the Belgian University of Liège reports on Wednesday morning. The team is led by Laetitia Delrez, an astrophysicist at ULiège.

Super-Earth is a term given to planets that orbit other stars and have a mass greater than that of the Earth.

The first planet, named LP 890-9b (or TOI-4306b), was initially identified by NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) space telescope. This space telescope searches for exoplanets orbiting nearby stars. LP 890-9b is about 30 percent larger than the Earth and can fully orbit its star in just 2.7 days.

The ULiège researchers used their SPECULOOS telescopes (Search for habitable Planets EClipsing ULtra-cOOl Stars) to confirm the existence of the planet and to better map it. The SPECULOOS telescopes are also used to search for other planets that may have been overlooked by Tess.

This is how a second super-Earth was discovered and named LP 890-9c. With a mass 40 percent greater than that of the Earth, it is similar to the first super-Earth. Its orbital period - the time it takes for the planet to complete its orbit around its star - is 8.5 days.

"Although this planet is very close to its star, at a distance about 10 times smaller than that of Mercury to our sun, the amount of stellar radiation it receives is still low, and the presence of liquid water on the planet's surface could be possible, provided it has an adequate atmosphere," explained Francisco J. Pozuelos, a researcher at the Astrophysical Institute of Andalusia and co-author of the paper.

The scientists will conduct further research to get to know the planet better. "The discovery of LP 890-9c offers us a unique opportunity to better understand the smallest and coldest stars in our neighbouring solar system and their habitability conditions," concludes Laetitia Delrez. 

The study was published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.



An artist's impression of super-Earth 'Barnard's Star b' discovered in 2018 © Handout / European Southern Observatory / AFP

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